Thursday, 20 July 2017

The 1942 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Mary Rose Thacker

While World War II raged overseas, Canadian figure skaters that weren't serving or engaged in war work gathered in Winnipeg, Manitoba on January 30 and 31, 1942 to compete in the 1942 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. The Winnipeg Winter Club played host to the national competition on outdoor ice... and the event almost didn't happen. Warmer than usual temperatures in the Prairies that year left the ice a soupy mess. Concerns over a reduced number of entries due to the war and the difficulty of Eastern skaters making the lengthy trek to the Manitoba capital had organizers on edge pre-event. However, a drop in temperatures just in time for the events allowed the ice to freeze sufficiently to let the show go on in glorious fashion.

Four teams competed in the junior pairs event that year, which was won by Flaurine Ducharme and Wally Diestelmeyer of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. In the junior Waltz, Margaret McInnes and Charles Lockwood of Regina, Saskatchewan were victorious but in the junior Tenstep, the temporary partnership of Doreen Dutton of the Glencoe Club and Will Thomas of the Toronto Skating Club edged their way to victory. Thomas also won the junior men's competition, defeating no less than three future Canadian senior men's champions - Diestelmeyer, Norrie Bowden and Nigel Stephens. In a field of ten, the Montreal Winter Club's Cynthia Power won the junior women's title. 

Clipping from "The Winnipeg Evening Tribune"

To the delight of the small hometown audience, Evelyn Rogers and George McCollough of Winnipeg won the Tenstep. Six teams competed in the Waltz event, won by Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie of Toronto. Back in those days the dances were contested individually with no free dance or overall ice dance title yet conceived on the national level in Canada. Eleanor O'Meara, Virginia Wilson, Donald Gilchrist and Michael Kirby gave a five minute performance and earned the fours title by default. Eleanor O'Meara and Sandy McKechnie were the only senior pairs team entered at the start of the competition, but junior champions Flaurine Ducharme and Wally Diestelmeyer were given the go ahead to 'skate up'. They were, however, unable to translate their junior win to a senior one.

Nova Scotian born Michael Kirby's win in the senior men's event must have been sweet. The sixteen year old St. Michael's College student had moved from Winnipeg to Toronto three years previously. He returned to Winnipeg as the reigning Canadian junior men's champion, competing in the senior ranks for the first time. Kirby outskated his fours teammate Donald Gilchrist to claim his only Canadian senior men's title before turning professional and skating with Sonja Henie.

The senior ladies event in 1942 was won by eighteen year old Mary Rose Thacker, a hometown favourite. In winning her third senior women's title, Thacker outranked a thirteen year old Barbara Ann Scott of Ottawa (who had just lost her father months earlier), her Winnipeg training mate Elizabeth Ann McKellar and Toronto's Billee (Virginia) Wilson. The February 2, 1942 edition of "The Montreal Gazette" noted that "polish and composure, attained by rigorous training and experience, provided Miss Thacker's margin over her youthful opponents. She defended her championship before a packed gallery and appeared as completely at ease as when she was skating seven and eight hours a day at Ottawa, training under the Czech instructor, Otto Gold." Gold, who also worked with Barbara Ann Scott, conceded in "The Ottawa Citizen" on March 6, 1947 that "in this competition, [Scott] skated a magnificent free skating program, which did not seem to get the deserved credit by the judges."

The excitement of Canada's best skaters of the early forties descending on Winnipeg was short-lived. By that October, the Winter Club where the 1942 Canadian Championships was held was purchased by the Royal Canadian Army and the facilities converted into training facilities for soldiers. The 1943 Canadian Championships were cancelled altogether due to the War. For a brief time in Canada, competitive figure skating would have to wait.

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